When researching Croatian cities to visit, people rave about Split & Dubrovnik along the southwestern coast. Split is known for being a party city that’s a gateway to the Croatian islands in the summer. Dubrovnik is famous for the walled in city, cruise ships, and being featured in Game of Thrones.
I happen to disagree with what these cities are known for. I think they should be known for meeting great travellers and for the fluffy cat population.
I was in Split November 9th and 10th and found it to be a charming, sleepy city with beautiful architecture, friendly cats, and views of the city and water. Being there in the off-season meant it was much quieter and more restaurants were closed, but it also gave a more local feel to the city and an opportunity to meet the few other travellers that were around.
The first night I arrived, in the hostel I met Michael from France. He was hitchhiking through the Balkans and had many great stories of kind and generous people he’d met along the way. I’m always really impressed by people who travel really inexpensively and put themselves in the trust of others.
After chatting with Michael, I decided to walk around the historical city centre and found only a few people doing the same. I spotted a few cats, but not enough to notice this was actually an entire city of cats.
At one point, I was completely alone, admiring some Roman columns in this large outdoor complex known as Diocletian’s Palace, when a tourist group came by. Taking advantage of being a solo person walking around, I lurked a distance back from the group and listened in to the tour guide, learning some great information about what I was looking at and the history of the city for free. One story that stood out was when the guide started talking about a pretty nondescript corner of a building. In the corner, there was a cylinder placed into the wall, so it wasn’t a sharp corner, but rounded outwards. The reason for this was so that back in the medieval days, a man couldn’t leave a bar to go pee in a dark corner, since he couldn’t get into the corner tight enough without a passerby seeing him. Basically a medieval deterrant to public urination. Genius.
The following day while sitting by what can only reasonably be called ‘The Wizard Statue’ (Gregory of Nin, a Croatian bishop who fought for the right to use the local Croatian language in church services), I met another girl traveling alone, Sofia from Argentina. Throughout the day, we explored the old city, hiked up a small hill to a flag to take in the views, watched the sunset on the edge of the water, and tried out the local Dalmatian red wine until the early morning hours when we parted ways. Moments like this and the people I meet are often why I encourage so many others to travel alone. With a traveling partner, you're less likely to reach out to others to pass the time.
On the bus from Split to Dubrovnik there is the opportunity to see some absolutely stunning views of the Croatian coastline and islands. The bus drives right along the edge coast, giving you a bit of adrenaline rush if you look down over the edge of the window when the bus is flying around a corner. While on the bus, it can be pretty tricky to take photos through the window, especially if the windows are dirty or there is a reflection of your camera in the glass. For some reason, luck was on my side and I managed to snap some incredible pictures of the views.
I arrived in Dubrovnik on November 11th and stayed until the 14th. Right in the heart of the old city, inside massive walls, my hostel felt like I was staying in a posh castle of sorts. I had heard about the old city and it’s beauty, but I had never heard about anyone talk about the cats. There are cats everywhere! And they’re not the scraggly, beaten-up looking street cats, but really fluffy and friendly cats that want to snuggle. As I explored the inner parts of the city, learning about the bombing of the city during the Balkan Wars, the many seiges laid to the city, walking up and down the dizzyingly steep staircases, and of course about where Game of Thrones scenes were shot, I often was snuggling a kitty at the same time.
Sitting by the water with a cat on my lap, thinking about nothing in particular, I heard someone say hello. Looking up, it was Michael from Split! We spent the day together walking the city walls and taking photos of everything from the views to the walls to the cats.
As soon as Michael left to go find a spot to camp for the night, I left back for the hostel where I ran into Sofi. Fate, it seems, sometimes brings people back together for some reason. In the hostel we met many other amazing people to share meals and stories with. Although you meet these great people, it's not often that you will ever see them again. It is one of the more difficult things to handle when you change locations often.
After a few days exploring Dubrovnik old city and hiking up the hill beside the city to see the view, I packed my bag and left the cats behind. One thing that I did not leave behind, were the memories made with new friends and the flea bits I had on my stomach and legs from snuggling so many cats.